Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley

2011-2012 season preview: Minnesota Wild

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2010-2011 record: 39-35-8, 86 points; 3rd in Northwest, 12th in West

Playoffs: Did not qualify

After treading water the past few seasons in uninspiring fashion, the Wild teamed up with the Sharks to drastically change the outlook of their offensive attack this offseason. Could that streamlining paired up with better health to their defense and goaltending put the Wild back in the postseason? Wild fans are excited no matter what.

Offense

Goals were and have been an issue for the Wild since the team’s inception. After finishing in the bottom five in the NHL in goals scored last year, GM Chuck Fletcher changed things up acquiring Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in separate deals with San Jose. Throw those two on a line with Mikko Koivu and suddenly the Wild have a completely capable top scoring line. With Marek Zidlicky carrying the puck for them with Brent Burns out of town and a second line featuring healthy versions of Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, coach Mike Yeo is hoping for the goals to come more frequently. Defensively, Cal Clutterbuck gets joined by Darroll Powe to create a heavy hitting set of forwards. Eric Nystrom, Kyle Brodziak, and Brad Staubitz will wreak havoc on opponents with big hits.

Defense

The Wild saying they’re going to fall back on the trap a bit more this season shouldn’t give fans the shakes but comfort in knowing that it’s going to happen with a purpose. The defensemen outside of Zidlicky, Nick Schultz, and Greg Zanon are really green and not just because of the team’s sweaters. Jared Spurgeon, Justin Falk, and Clayton Stoner all have some NHL experience now, but they’ll need to prove they can cut it. Mike Lundin comes over from Tampa Bay looking to prove getting squeezed out of the mix there was a mistake on their part. Things could go well here, but there’s going to be mistakes made. Limiting them is what they hope the trap can help out with.

source: APGoalies

Niklas Backstrom is back again as the man in goal. At 33, time is dwindling down for the Finn to get it done for the Wild and after having some nagging injury problems last season, the Wild are hoping he can rebound with as strong of a season as they know they can bank on from him. Josh Harding returns as his backup goalie after missing all of last season with a knee injury. He was solid two years ago as the backup in spelling Backstrom from doing too much. How he bounces back after a year away will be something the Wild will have to watch closely.

Coaching

Mike Yeo enters into his first head coaching job in the NHL getting to try and turn things around for the Wild. Yeo is Dan Bylsma’s former assistant coach in Pittsburgh and after spending last season coaching the Wild’s farm team in Houston, the Aeros’ success earned Yeo the shot at the top job in Minnesota. Yeo shouldn’t have any job worries this season unless an epic losing streak comes into play. That shouldn’t happen. We think.

source: Getty ImagesBreakout candidate

Are Mikael Granlund and his magical shootout moves here yet? He’s still in Finland? Well shoot. All right, how about defenseman Jared Spurgeon then?He’s small (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) but defense is the one area where a player can step up in a big way here and grab the spotlight. It’s also the position where the Wild really need someone to step up bit and Spurgeon showed glimpses of slick ability last season. If Spurgeon can’t do it then perhaps Marco Scandella can on the blue line as well.  If anyone slumps or struggles, there’ll be chances to make it all better.

Best-case scenario

Heatley, Koivu, and Setoguchi become a revelation in Minnesota becoming one of the top lines in the league and a threat to change a game on any shift. Latendresse and Bouchard remain healthy and productive with Latendresse pushing the 30-goal barrier in the process while either Brodziak or Matt Cullen lead the way up the middle on that line. The defense plays tight and strong limiting mistakes that make Backstrom’s life a lot easier in goal as the Wild fight through the West and an iffy division into a playoff spot at the bottom of the West.

Reality

Reality here is that this is a thin lineup. An injury to any player will expose the weaknesses of the Wild’s system and any injuries to guys on the top two lines will be offense killers. The Wild are going to be a little bit better, the question is will it be enough to get into the postseason? That’s debatable and seems unlikely.

With just one win in six, there’s ‘lots of concern’ for Kings

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 26:  Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 26, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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After last night’s 1-0 loss to the Ducks, the Kings found themselves sitting two points back of Calgary for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Not a comfortable place to be with just 24 games left in the season — and now, the Kings are feeling that lack of comfort in the dressing room.

“Oh yeah, lots of concern,” Doughty said when asked about the atmosphere, per LA Kings Insider. “We’re still fully confident that we can turn it on now and get back in to that playoff spot that we want to be in but the longer we wait, the harder it’s going to be.

“Right now we’re losing points and other teams are winning games that aren’t playing against us. Yeah, we need to get on track immediately.”

One of the teams Doughty alluded to is the surging Jets, who moved a point ahead of L.A. with a win over Ottawa last night. The Kings still have four games in hand on Winnipeg, but the advantage won’t matter without some positive results.

Following a 1-0 OT win over Philly on Feb. 4, the Kings had a 27-21-4 record, good for 58 points and sole possession of the first wild card spot.

Since then, they’ve gone 1-5-0.

The Kings have lost in all sorts of ways, too. There were consecutive 5-0 blowouts to the Caps and Bolts. Things have since tightened up — including a 3-2 loss to Florida on Saturday, and last night’s aforementioned defeat to Anaheim — but the end results have all been the same.

Losses.

Given there’s been so many different types of defeats, it’s not surprising many different targets have been criticized. Head coach Darryl Sutter pinned last Thursday’s 5-3 defeat to Arizona on goalie Peter Budaj, and Sutter alluded to the struggling defensive pair of Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin (who were split up) after Sunday’s game.

Again, from Kings Insider:

On whether he got what he was looking for from the changes to defensive pairings:
No. We made a mistake on the goal. They had an easy turnover in the neutral zone. We moved guys around. Quite honest, we’ve got a couple defensemen that’ve had really tough times this season, so we split ‘em up tonight.

Debate plus-minus all you like, but Martinez is minus-15 this year while Muzzin’s a team-worst minus-17. And this is on a team that has a virtually even goal differential (143 for, 145 against) and routinely outshoots its opponents (averaging 30.5 shots for per game, just 25.7 allowed).

The Kings will have a chance to get back in the win column on Tuesday, when they visit Colorado to take on the lowly Avs. After that, the club has just four games left before the March 1 trade deadline.

Is Beleskey on the outs in Boston?

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  Matt Beleskey #39 of the Boston Bruins takes a shot against New Jersey Devils  during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a tough second season in Boston for Matt Beleskey.

Beleskey, signed to a five-year, $19 million deal two summers ago, has just two goals through 33 games this season and, on Sunday, was back in the press box as a healthy scratch for the Bruins’ 2-1 OT win over San Jose. He’d previously been parked as a spectator back in November, under then-head coach Claude Julien.

Things haven’t gotten much better under new bench boss Bruce Cassidy. Prior to the bye week, Cassidy played Beleskey a team-low 7:37 in a 4-0 win over Montreal, and that came after Beleskey sat as a healthy scratch against Vancouver.

As mentioned, it’s been a frustrating campaign overall, as Beleskey also missed 23 games this year with a knee injury. That obviously played a big role in the 28-year-old’s decreased production, which has to be frustrating given he scored 15 and 22 goals in each of his previous two campaigns.

Which begs the question — could he be on the move?

From the Boston Globe:

With the NHL’s March 1 trade deadline fast approaching, the 28-year-old Beleskey and his $3.8 million cap hit would be a prime for a swap, although he has a limited no-trade provision in his contract. Hired on for a five-year, $19 million deal in July 2015, he has not provided the playing edge or the offensive numbers hoped for when new GM Don Sweeney coaxed him away from the Anaheim Ducks.

Arizona could make for a prime partner in a Beleskey swap. The Coyotes likely will move Radim Vrbata, the 35-year-old Czech winger, who is on an expiring contract (with a $3.25 million cap hit). The Desert Dogs would end up with a winger under contract control for three more seasons and it would allow Beleskey, who scored 22 goals in his final season with the Ducks, a fresh start to try to rediscover his offensive input.

Under GM John Chayka, Arizona has developed a reputation as a place where unwanted contracts go to die. The Coyotes picked up the remainder of Pavel Datsyuk’s deal with Detroit at last year’s draft and, shortly thereafter, took on the remainder of Dave Bolland‘s contract with Florida in a trade that landed Lawson Crouse.

This trend carried over from the Don Maloney era. Maloney acquired the remainder of Chris Pronger‘s contract from Philadelphia at the 2015 draft.

Laine’s big week gets Jets back into playoff race

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Patrik Laine #29, playing his first NHL game, of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates scoring his first NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At top is Mathieu Perreault #85 of the Winnipeg Jets. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Patrik Laine is the NHL’s first star of the week.

In four games, the Winnipeg rookie scored five goals to help the Jets to a 3-0-1 record and propel them back into the playoff race.

Laine also had three assists. With eight points total, he beat out Toronto’s Nazem Kadri and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the second and third stars of the week, respectively.

From the NHL:

[Laine] recorded his third career hat trick, including the winning goal, in a 5-2 triumph over the Dallas Stars Feb. 14. In doing so, Laine became the first player in NHL history to register three hat tricks before his 19th birthday as well as the first rookie to collect three hat tricks in one season since 1992-93. He scored again in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 16. Laine then finished the week with consecutive multi-point efforts, notching 1-1—2 in a 3-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens Feb. 18 and two assists in a 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators Feb. 19. The 18-year-old Tampere, Finland, native paces rookies with 52 points in 54 games this season and also shares third place in the entire NHL – as well as the rookie lead – with 28 goals.

The Jets are now only one point back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot in the West; however, the Flames do hold three games in hand.

Streaking Blues get Stastny back tonight

UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Paul Stastny #26 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on December 6, 2014 in Uniondale, New York. The Blues defeated the Islanders 6-4.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s loss to Buffalo notwithstanding, St. Louis has been on fire lately under new head coach Mike Yeo. The Blues are 7-2 in their last nine, and will get a big piece of the lineup back this evening when they host Florida at Scottrade.

Paul Statsny, who’s missed the last four games with a lower-body injury, will draw in for the first time since Feb. 9, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac.

What’s more, Stastny will be immediately reunited on the club’s top line between Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Stastny had been on fire since the dismissal of former head coach Ken Hitchcock, racking up six points over his last five games played (in which the Blues went 4-1-0).

The 31-year-old currently sits fourth on the team in assists and points, while averaging 19:25 TOI per night, so he’s clearly a big part of the St. Louis attack. And based on his form prior to getting hurt, it was clear things were clicking with Steen and Tarasenko — which should make for an exciting test tonight against the red-hot Panthers.